Of all the workplaces I’ve visited in my series, this one serves as the most appropriate visual metaphor for its occupant and his workstyle. I’m seated in a peaceful, wood-panelled cabin—situated at the edge of an airfield in Mumbai, but well-insulated from the roar and throttle of the aircraft outside. Its inhabitant, G.V. Sanjay Reddy, the vice-chairman of GVK Power and Infrastructure Ltd, and managing director of Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd, is equally calm and composed, with little to suggest that he is grappling with a storm of business challenges. The 48-year-old Reddy is the son of G.V. Krishna Reddy, the founder chairman and managing director of the Hyderabad-based infrastructure conglomerate, the GVK group.

The power of positive thinking

The plans for Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai, are framed and displayed behind Reddy’s desk

The classic C-suite combination of a wood-lined interior, brown leather sofas and a Kashmiri rug reflects Reddy’s aesthetic preferences. “We’ve developed a certain look and feel in all our offices, we like wood, we like it to be not so minimalistic," he says.

Reddy’s taste in art is similarly “traditional. I don’t have much interest in contemporary or modern Indian artists", he says, adding that his Hyderabad office has several Tanjore paintings. The much-awaited T2 terminal of the Mumbai airport will have a 1.2km “art wall" of traditional and modern Indian art, an aspect of the airport modernization project that is particularly important to the detail-oriented Reddy. He hopes that it will capture “the expanse, depth and beauty of Indian art".

His office has potted plants to keep the room lively

The answer is a firm no, for two reasons. First, at a personal level, Reddy says he has learnt to leverage “the power of positive thinking. If I think I’m doing great, I feel great also. I consciously decided a few years ago that I will have to work on disassociating my mind from the state of the business. I have to. My state of mind cannot be determined by the state of the business", he emphasizes.

Second, stress is an occupational hazard. The nature of the infrastructure business entails that many critical success factors are beyond the control of managers, such as the availability of gas supply to their power plants, Reddy explains, adding that the priority is to remain focused on execution. Alongside commissioning a new terminal at Mumbai airport, Reddy is aiming to complete the expansion of the Bangalore airport terminal, and commission two power projects and a toll road project before the end of the financial year. “This year is critical for us. Once these projects all go into operation and start generating cash flow, then I think we won’t have much of an issue to worry about," he predicts.

Airport lounge-life

His taste in art is ‘traditional’ and he has little interest in contemporary or modern Indian art
His taste in art is ‘traditional’ and he has little interest in contemporary or modern Indian art

Just like the airplanes that land and take off from their destinations, Reddy himself dives in and out of business operations, depending on each company’s requirements at a particular point in time. He’s based more in Mumbai at the moment, as the project is at a critical phase of execution leading up to the terminal’s opening later this year, he says.

This nomadic existence is a direct consequence of the group’s geographical and sideways expansion into new, often unrelated industries, with escalating scale, the logic of which some commentators have questioned. Over the last 15 years, the GVK group has expanded from running hotels, to setting up power plants, modernizing airports, building roads and finally, investing in a coalmine in Australia last year.

A dagger gifted by an Indonesian associate
A dagger gifted by an Indonesian associate

Reddy prides his conglomerate’s execution skills and the ability to refresh industry standards. “I had no clue about coal mining two years ago. Today I can tell you, the chart that we set out in coal mining is completely different than what traditional companies are doing," he says.

His approach, he describes, is to throw himself into new projects, build a team to manage the project and then enable them to execute. “The effort is to try to see how to kick myself out of this job. I always tell my people, I treat myself most successful when things get done when I’m not even once involved," he summarizes. An apt philosophy for a global multitasker, and one that will be put to the test when Mumbai’s new terminal opens.

Aparna Piramal Raje meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspace design and working styles.